It's unlikely that you'll ever find a philosopher that you agree with 100%, and if you did, it wouldn't be as interesting as it could be. I find that the most interesting parts of philosophy tend to be where you mostly agree, but have some key disagreements, and develop the arguments in relation to those disagreements. It helps if there's a large amount of common ground, though, because that helps to focus the scope of disagreement.
Meanwhile, I'm getting less enthused with Martin S. Pribble. I don't want to belittle the guy, but a recent post of his
is a case study in bad philosophy. It's bizarre that so many Scientific Rationalists are contemptuous of philosophy, and yet consider themselves such champions of reason. It's not just that their formula for science is all evidence and no epistemology, but also that they are so utterly inept when it comes to understanding an argument and responding to its points.
I am, in fact, going to conduct a little case study here in relation to his post, just to illustrate what I mean, because it's quite possible that the poor quality merely reflects poor standards at large. They didn't teach philosophy or critical thinking in high school when I went there (and I'm pretty sure that hasn't changed), and most science graduates never feel the need to go to Critical Thinking 101 in the Philosophy department at university, so few people have any real exposure to the ancient arts of dialectic and rhetoric -- or anything more than a shallow grasp of grammar for that matter, which is the third leg in the trivium
. These are "liberal arts" for which the modern Scientific Rationalist has nothing but a contemptuous sneer.
Martin's post was in response to something, so let's first acquaint ourselves with the text to which he was responding
. I quote it here, trimmed down just a little bit to remove some side issues.
Patrick Cunningham wrote:
There are many different religions that claim their god is the true God, but there are also a lot of people who claim belief in any kind of god is irrational and childish. While there is a place for apologetic defenses for the first topic, in this post I’ll deal with the second, reasons why the belief in God is not irrational, and also how without the God of the Bible (a loving, beautiful, creating God, we would not even be able to argue about these topics).
I’ve been reading a book on apologetics by Tim Keller, The Reason for God, in which he gives many arguments for the existence of not only a general God, but the God of the Bible. In one chapter ... he gave one that I have never thought of before and that made so much sense; the regularity of nature. Scientists have no idea why nature continues to repeat itself. Something as simple as the sun rising tomorrow, we only know this because for all of history, it has risen, therefore we know it will tomorrow. This is what science is based on, the fact that a scientific “law” is something that happens every single time. Tomorrow, water will boil at the same temperature as it did today, and will for the rest of time, because it has always boiled at that temperature. This idea of regularity of nature is what science is built on, yet scientists don’t know why it continues to work. What is more, is that science cannot prove the continued regularity of nature, it can only be taken on faith. Each day, scientists make a leap of faith that what was true yesterday will still be true today.
Now let us view the substance of Martin's response
. Again, a few irrelevant snippets have been removed: consult the original to verify that I am not quoting out of context.
Martin S. Pribble wrote:
...his statement is not only naive, but it’s misleading and has some factual errors also. Firstly, the sun doesn’t rise, the earth spins on its axis, and this gives the appearance of it rising in the sky. Everybody knows that. Secondly, water will boil at different temperatures depending on the atmospheric pressure it is at, for instance, up on Mount Everest, water boils at closer to 75 degrees Celsius, as opposed to the 100 degrees we are used to. At sea level. On earth. And thirdly, and most importantly, the faith he talks about here, you know, the one that says that science will work the same way it does today, tomorrow? I can’t even begin to grasp how that is even an argument. Science does not have “faith”, it works with what is and if that changed, so would the science. God is not needed to explain why things stay the same. The argument is “everything is, and will be”, but that is neither a question nor a statement worth pondering too much. ... The argument that, if god did not exist, the whole universe would descend into chaos, is not only speculation, but based on what we know, it is bad speculation without any grounds to stand on, because it makes the assumption that god does exist, and that’s why things don’t descend into chaos.
Let's be clear that I'm not holding Patrick's original argument up as an exemplary piece of reasoning. On the contrary, I think it's a little sloppy, and there is plenty of room for reasoned disagreement with it, which makes Martin's response all the more tragic for the missed opportunity.
Let's start with Martin's objection re "factual errors". First, "the sun doesn't rise". The problems with this objection are that it's obtuse, it's irrelevant, and it's incorrect by current scientific standards. It's obtuse because the point of the example was to illustrate regularity, not make a claim about motion; it's irrelevant because the phenomenon is just as regular whether we consider it the rising and setting of the sun or the rotation of the Earth; and it's incorrect because Einstein's Relativity tells us that there are no preferred frames of reference for motion, so either description of the motion is equally valid. His second objection re the boiling point of water is similarly lame: it constructs a straw man by adding details to the original argument, extrapolating it into the bounds of falsehood and then pointing out the falsehoods; it's obtuse in that it ignores the crux of the illustration, which is that scientific laws do indeed present themselves as universal in both time and space. Current theories claim that the boiling point of water is affected by atmospheric pressure, not by the day of the week, or the alignment of the planets, or the year in which the experiment is being conducted.
These first two objections can be summed up in one word: "pedantic".
The third objection is, above all else, poorly expressed. This is particularly unfortunate in that it is supposed to be the most important point. Martin starts by saying, "I can’t even begin to grasp how that is even an argument." It's fair to feel this way about what other people have said, but the appropriate reaction is to analyse the original statement in greater depth; to look for claims and supporting arguments or evidence. Martin conducts no such analysis, but merely reacts to the word "faith" being applied to science, saying, "science does not have “faith”, it works with what is
and if that changed, so would the science." Due to the lack of accompanying analysis, it's hard to say what, exactly, is being refuted here. There are three claims in the original argument to which this could apply: the claim that the "regularity of nature is what science is built on", the claim that "science cannot prove the continued regularity of nature", and the final claim that "each day, scientists make a leap of faith that what was true yesterday will still be true today." When viewed in the context of these claims, it seems to be a denial that faith is involved because science is not
founded on the regularity of nature: "it works with what is
and if that changed, so would the science." I'm not sure that Martin has considered all the implications of this position. The ongoing usefulness
of science and technology certainly is
grounded in the regularity of nature. Science might still be possible in an abstract sense, but it would certainly cease to be useful if the laws changed faster than we could determine what they are, or if things were dominated by randomness rather than determinism. Surely this is a significant problem?
Martin's next statement is, "God is not needed to explain why things stay the same
." This is true in the sense that we can just take it for granted
that things do, in fact, stay the same, and decline to explain why
that is so. In terms of an actual explanation
as to why things stay the same, however, Martin offers nothing to back up his assertion that God is not needed: it's not an argument, it's just straight contradiction (hat tip to Monty Python). Next, he says, "The argument is “everything is, and will be”, but that is neither a question nor a statement worth pondering too much." In context, it's clear that he is presenting this as a paraphrase of his opponent's argument, rather than his own. Granted, it's a fairly vacuous statement, but it is also a straw man, not his opponent's actual argument. It's not clear to me why I should accept the paraphrase as fair representation: the exact relationship between God and the regularity of nature isn't spelled out in the original post, but I gather from context that the lawful, consistent nature of the creation reflects the nature of the creator. Not every theistic religion promotes a God of these characteristics. "Everything is, and will be" seems more like a paraphrase of the position adopted by the scientist who asserts the lawful and consistent nature of the universe, without explaining why it has such characteristics.
Martin's final remark is, "the argument that, if god did not exist, the whole universe would descend into chaos, is not only speculation, but based on what we know, it is bad speculation without any grounds to stand on, because it makes the assumption that god does exist, and that’s why things don’t descend into chaos." The argument that, "if god did not exist, the whole universe would descend into chaos," is nowhere to be found in the original post. Perhaps this is an interpretation of, "without the God of the Bible (a loving, beautiful, creating God, we would not even be able to argue about these topics)." Granted, this assertion is unsupported by argument elsewhere in the post, so "speculation" is not an unfair comment on it. Beyond that, however, Martin's commentary becomes muddled. An analysis shows that the accusation is essentially one of circular reasoning. Consider the remark with the middle section removed: "the argument that, if god did not exist, the whole universe would descend into chaos ... makes the assumption that god does exist, and that’s why things don’t descend into chaos." I see no reason to call the argument circular in this manner: a charitable interpretation is that the orderly, lawful universe is the product of an orderly, lawful God, and removal of that theistic foundation leaves no reason for the universe to be orderly or lawful. In this interpretation, the absence of God does not cause the universe to "descend into chaos" (Martin's words, not Patrick's), but it does leave the law and order as phenomena without a cause.
And that's more than enough analysis for now. I hope you can see why I consider this to be an argument of poor quality. I would also like to mention that I don't have the time for on-going case studies of this sort: bad arguments can be produced relatively quickly, but detailed analysis of the badness is quite time-consuming.